26 July 2005

Here's what I'm talking about

A new Bible for "the diverse Hip Hop culture." I'm not making this stuff up. The real products publishers are turning out are already so extreme, there's no way to parody them. (Try to think of an exaggeration, and it's already been done for "real.")

This is the latest in one publisher's line of "Biblezines"—the complete New Testament in magazine formats tailored to specific market segments. Judging from the cover photo, the primary target audience here are rage-filled African Americans age thirty and under:

Price: Fiddy Cent.

Pardon me while I go down to the studio. It's completely soundproof. I'll probably be in there for the next hour or so.
Phil's signature


Patrick Chan said...

Whoa, I'm straight trippin'. Seriously, though, that is quite sad to say the least. Thanks for pointing it out, Phil.

fickett said...

When I first saw this I was sure it had to be a parody. But a quick check of the publisher's site and I saw it there for sale on their front page. All they need now is a special edition for hermaphroditic dwarfs. Where will it end?

Sled Dog said...

So, Phil are you saying that there cannot be any consideration of culture in product development? Is there anything in the actual content of the mag/Biblezine that is truly offensive, or is that it is marketed to a specific segment of our society? All it is the New Testament surrouded by some articles, right?

I'm just a teeny bit fearful (and correct me if I'm wrong) that you are revealing a type of WASPY view of Christianity. Maybe it was the "fitty cent" crack. I'm amazed at how humbled I am when I visit churches of different nationalities and cultures...I'm often trying to figure out how I can be more like them, rather than trying to get them to be more like me.

Unknown said...

Just another example of the extreme emphasis on "my uniqueness" of contemporary Christianity. Thanks for the blog, Phil.

Jus Divinum said...

Oops, who let the dogs out? sled dog did :-)

I too would be interested in seeing actual _arguments_ for what's wrong with this product.

Maybe hip-hoppers just aren't worth saving ;-)

TulipGirl said...


Steven H said...

Yes, hip-hoppers are worth saving, but not through a medium that communicates the ineffectiveness, irrelevancy, and impotence of Scripture. The Gospel does not need an expert to market itself in order to be relevant and practical to a specific ethnicity or culture. Should we have a separate Gospel magazine for alcoholics, drug addicts, couples who are struggling with infertility, Muslims, etc.?

The Gospel cuts through all of division and ethnic barriers. The Gospel is supra-cultural. The gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. Peter’s message to the circumcision and Paul’s message to the uncircumcision was the same. We don’t need separate packaging of the Gospel; we need bold proclamation of the unifying Gospel. The Gospel presents a unifying Body, while publications such as this seem to effect division and undue diversity within the Body.

My needs are the same as theirs; their needs are the same as yours. We need a Redeemer who sustains us as our Advocate in order to be reconciled to a Holy, Righteous God.

Phil Johnson said...

For the record, Sled Dog, I was equally outraged last year when the same publisher came out with their original Biblezines, starting with a glamor-mag format for rich white girls. So it's not just my WASPishness being piqued, here.

And for those who aren't sure:

What's wrong with this picture, class?

I'll start us out: This sort of thing deliberately trivializes the Word of God. I haven't read the hip-hop 'zine yet, of course, but in the white-girl Cosmo knock-off version the pages were salted with beauty tips, hints about how to handle boyfriends, and other such nonsense.

Here's a more thorough review.

But I gotta say, if you have actually read what I have been posting the past two weeks and still have to ask why I think this sort of merchandising is bad, you might want to start reading through the posts on Fad-Driven® religion one more time.

Jeremy Weaver said...

It's getting hard to distinguish Bibles from Chicken Soup books.
This magazine is just the latest and greatest in this marketing trend.
I worked at a Christian Store, it used to be called a 'Bookstore', but now (with all the 'Christian' paraphernalia) just 'Store', and we sold Bibles for Men, Women,and Children, and then the list goes off into specialty Bibles for 'race', class, and any other kind of divisive distinction that you can imagine. After this there are Bibles for golfers, sports fanatics, etc.
This kind of marketing while good for sales, in my opinion divides the Church into factions. I just finished reading Galatians 3:26-29. There is no need for all this since we are all united in Christ.

Chuck E. said...

You don't understand because you are not in their target audience. On the flipside, I heard they sent Eminem a copy, but he couldn't respond to the Gospel because he had no one to recite a prayer for him to repeat.

Sled Dog said...

Thanks Phil for the response. Trust me, many things in the Christian bookstore annoy me, but the Revolve, Revolution, etc haven't gotten under my skin like they have yours. I was a youth pastor for too many years, and understand, to some degree, that their must be some "cultural translation" taking place. Every once in a while I'd get some one who held steven h.'s view on my youth staff, and they rarely were effective with communicating the Gospel. Mission work is bridge building. There thinking was
Why do I have to adjust to these kids?" It's the same reason I have a translator when I preach in foreign countries...I want to communicate.

As a kid I remember reading Chick tracts that were left around the church. I know now that there is a lot to be desired about chick tracts, but God, the powerful God was able to work in spite of human limitations.

I read Rick Holland's review, and he made some good points, but other aspects of his review sounded whiny. Thanks for the link.

SJ Camp said...

To support my Waspy brother :-)... I too was offended at the original B'Zine. NOT because of packaging... but content. If the content was solid then, within reason, the cover art and layout could be an effective approach. But it wasn't... Unfortunately, "style over substance" ran consistent throughout.

Now I don't know about this version, "dawg." But the last time around the sidebar comments; the inline illustrations were not "diggin my chili." I can honestly say, for I read it cover to cover, that past issues adulterated the Word of God by a frivolous treatment of biblical themes, and in some cases, a sensual superficial approach to the articles The gospel doesn't need dressing up, it just needs to be proclaimed.

What a crazy time we live in--who knows what other wackiness tomorrow will bring? Next thing you're going to be telling me is that Christians are using politics to solve the moral ills of our nation, partnering with nonbelievers, and letting Romanists, who deny sola fide, share time behind the "sacred desk" in Bible believing Baptist churches on the Lord's Day because they're against the demise of family values too? :-).

Phil is "spot on" here y'all.

So in keeping with this current B'Zine issue: give Dr. " J" some love... and let him know "he's still dope with his homeboys.)
Stay phat baby...

Sled Dog said...

Auurrggh!!!!! Okay, my only complaint with Blogger is that I can't go back and edit my posts. Please forgive grammatical errors in my previous and suffer the little bloggers...

Larson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

I find the Biblezines to be an affront to Sola Scriptura and in some instances outright blasphemous.

The Bible is self-relevant.

SoccerReformer said...

"15 Steps to heaven" on the mage cover certainly piqued my curiousity.

But what about a soccer evangelism magazine? 6 training drills to get you to that World Cup in the Sky or - "Don't get the Red Card from your preacher, 41 tips for playing life by the rules"

I can't think of anything. Thing is, it's probably already been done.

Campi - I have scammed your take and I am down with that!

candy said...

what up? aight? i be chilin with my Ebonic Bible. learned to read it in my Ebonics class in high school English.

bloggo said...

I don't have a problem with the packaging, though I do have a problem with the packaging.

My problem is with how the content is presented. The Bible, God's revelation, is reduced to a "self" help book.

Over the past two years our family has visited in over 75 different Churches, ranging from Nazarene to Sovereign Grace Baptist. We visited non-denominational, denominational and just about every form of Baptist you can find. Our take? This form of marketing fits in real well with most Churches today. Most of the sermons we heard were religious pep talks with large doses of self help and feel good thoughts. We heard 2 expositional sermons during this time. (both in a black, pentecostal Church)

As I have often said we are running full steam ahead in our search for relevance and we don't even realize we have become irrelevant.

The Hungarian Luddite

Teri said...

Thank you for a thoughtful blog! You (and your commenters) are some of the first evangelicals I have run across who actually think about what they see, hear, believe, read, etc. As an "evangelical liberal" minister I have often despaired of much of the evangelical movement for its fad-following and seemingly uncritical thinking. Many thanks for redeeming those who are interested in sharing the Word so "every knee may bow."

David said...

A WASPy view of Christianity? Frankly, black people should be more offended by this than any white person. "Got Questions? HE got answers." What is the message there? Minorities are ignorant and illiterate, but they sure do go for the shiny stuff, er... bling-bling. They'll never get our message if we don't dumb it down and flash it up. Fitty cent, indeed.

David Kjos

Jeff Wright said...

Man that is already old hat. I work at a LifeWay and it's been on the shelf for a couple of months.

The next trendy zine is probably already about to hit our Christian retailers any time now.

Ryan DeBarr said...

It's spelled "fiddy."

Steve said...

Phil, it's possible some people are unsure of what's wrong with this picture because much of what's been addressed in this fad-driven church matter has been posed in broad generalities.

You've been fairly clear about what your concerns are, but it's still easy to come away from the last several blogs and everyone's comments and get the impressions that 1) marketing is bad, and 2) we shouldn't concern ourselves with making a Christian product relevant.

Are these really the case?

First, there's nothing wrong with marketing itself. At its core, marketing is the business of making consumers aware of a product's existence. When we see an ad in a Christian periodical for a new John Piper or John MacArthur book, some of us are willing to part with a handful of dollars because we're eager to learn from these respected Bible teachers. We don't have any problem with such marketing, do we? We're usually grateful that our attention has been called to the existence of that product.

There are a number of solidly biblical Christian teachers and writers who have Web sites that advertise their tapes, books, and other materials. Point blank, such advertising is marketing. Unless the advertising is done in poor taste or is pushy, we don't have any problem with such, do we?

Now let's step up to the big leagues. As we all know, Zondervan spent a considerable sum of money to market The Purpose Driven Life. And Thomas Nelson also invested in some pretty significant advertising when the MacArthur Study Bible came out. Why are we all up in arms over Purpose Driven Life, and not the MacArthur Study Bible? It's at this point we realize we need to separate the FUNCTION of marketing from the CONTENT and MANNER of our marketing.

As Phil correctly stated in this morning's blog, we as Christians (and Christian publishers!) should "build [our] movements around timeless truth rather than passing fashions."

It's the CONTENTS of the product we're marketing that should be concerned about. And it's the MANNER in which the marketing is done that we ought to examine. We can also give consideration to the intent of the author or publisher, but this is a rather tricky pursuit because we have to be so very careful about judging people's motives.

As we all know, when a product is program- or fad-driven, it's going to come and go. The Prayer of Jabez is a prime example. It's already old news. But a solidly biblical book that exposits The Lord's Prayer (or Disciples' Prayer)has the potential to become a classic. Why? Because it allows timeless truth from Christ Himself to dictate how we pray, as opposed to Jabez's prayer, which is simply a part of the biblical narrative and wasn't ever intended to serve as a model for prayer or even give us principles regarding prayer.

Another point on marketing: Wouldn't we all love it if a publishing company decided to spend a million dollars marketing Pilgrim's Progress...The Reformed Pastor...The Jewel of Contentment...or Morning and Evening? And wouldn't it be wild if one of these books sold 22 million copies, as has PDL? We wouldn't call such a publisher an unscrupulous cheapjack for marketing these quality books with the clout that was put behind PDL, would we? (There...I've been dying to use that great phrase. Thanks, Phil!) So it's not marketing itself that's the problem, but WHAT'S being marketed, and of course, HOW it's being marketed.

As for relevancy, we need to realize that to some extent, relevancy DOES in fact come into play when we develop a Christian product. For example, MacArthur has written a few children's books. It would make sense for the language and the artwork in those books to be appropos for children, wouldn't it? That's relevancy.

Yet there's no question that we need to be wary of giving too much weight to the whole matter of relevancy. Too often, we allow our concern for human relevancy to supersede divine relevancy. I see the Hip-Hop New Testament as a great example of this.

Let's keep in mind that the Bible has always been and will always continue to be relevant to people all people at all times. It's most definitely ministry-driven. And for hundreds of years, it has been the #1 selling book worldwide without any help from marketers, thank you very much.

What's unfortunate is that the Hip-Hop New Testament--and quite a lot of other Bibles nowadays--bury the core essence of God's Word beneath thick layers of programs, methods, and fashions that are here today, gone tomorrow. Ten years from now, all the human trappings in that Hip-Hop New Testament will have to be gutted and rewritten because the times have changed.

What's sad is that when these so-called "timely" Bibles become out of date because the fads or fashions have moved on, we run the very real risk of ALSO making it appear that God's Word itself has become outdated, too. Why hold the Bible hostage to packaging overkill? As for the contents, why bog down a timeless message by surrounding it with sidebars and notes that do little more than cater to superficial matters and what's hot for the moment? Why let momentary style obscure eternal substance? Why not let the timelessness of the product transcend the times? That's the way it ought to be.

Am I saying no attention should be paid at all to packaging? No. Classic Christian books are routinely given new covers to keep them contemporary-looking. And in most cases when this happens, the style does not at all obscure the substance. It's when we dilute, distract from, or compete with the substance itself or we begin to obscure it that we need to ask ourselves some hard questions about what we're doing, and why.

I've gone on long enough. There's more I could say. But in a nutshell, 1) we need to be careful that we don't overgeneralize as we assess what's happening in the world and church today. And 2) we need to make the effort to challenge ourselves on the finer points of discernment when it comes to the products available for our perusal. Phil did a superb job of exactly that in his assessment of Harry Potter.

Phil Johnson said...

Ryan: Thanks. I should have consulted an expert like you before posting. I've fixed it now.

Steve: Good thoughts. Well said. Start a blog, and I'll link to you.

Jeff: Have they showed you next season's stuff yet? What's on the horizon? A version for the body-modification zealots? Beer drinkers? Motorcycle gangs? At the very least, they need to have one for home-schoolers.

wordsmith said...

i'm still waiting for the "one-legged canary owner's bible" to make its debut...

jc said...

Phil, what will you do in the soundproof studio? Laugh out loud? Or cry out loud?

Brandon said...

This is not any different from the "worship wars".

Furthermore, it obscures the audience of the scriptures. What happens when the 60-year old man grieved by his sin goes into the Christian book store and sees that apparently the Bible is geared only for the hip-hop crowd now?

What should we think of Christ's church when we are so self-concerned that the only way to reach us is to make a Bible-zine geared to our own personal interests? Can't we just once stop talking about ourselves and listen to a story from a different time and place where we aren't the main characters?

As far as reaching the youth. I came to Christ while I was in high school. High schoolers are capable of much deeper thinking than a lot of youth pastors give them credit for (they are concerned about death, eternity, and hell just as much as adults). Giving them a Bible-zine pushes them in the wrong direction. Aside from that if you want to reach the youth you need something that they can relate to AND will send them onto the celestial city, not vanity fair.

In these ways the Bible-zine will fail to be good for the church of Jesus Christ.

Jeff Wright said...

Phil - sorry, no previews given. At least not to us rank-and-file register punchers anyway.

You can see the whole lineup here though:

I do find it interesting that they are now looking to publish studies in that format.

Do we call them zine studies, Bible studies, drivel? I'm torn.

Wayne Hatcher said...

This whole idea of tayloring the message to the culture is all backward. What ever happened to "Be ye not conformed to this world be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind"?

Phil, is faddism akin to pragmatism? (Well, it seems to be working (for now)).

Reading your last entry on fads reminded me of the book by Ian Murray, "Revivals and Revivalism". Did the tide turn with Finney?

Please don't change the layout. The graphics of the burned out churches connected with this particular topic have said it all. They add to the heartbreak, which should be every true Christian's reaction, whether he be Sovereign Grace or Semi-Pelagian.

FX Turk said...

Yo dog: do'n be dipping yo' fingah in my KoolAid 'til you know what flavah it is.

Who be needin' da O.G. (original Gospel) mo' dan ho's and ganstas?

FX Turk said...


The previous comment was a joke.

Why you face all up in my grill?

Cindy Swanson said...

Phil, I happen to love your humor. And I'm glad you have it, because it seasons some of the more strident aspects of your opinions.

But hey, I'm not afraid of getting my toes stepped on, either. After all, I grew up in an IFB pastor's home!

Cindy Swanson said...

Oops, I'm an idiot. That comment was supposed to go on your blogspotting post, where someone was complaining about your humor.

Fred Butler said...

I'm looking forward to when they release one for the red-neck/hillbilly crowd so as to reach the lost in West Virginia. Maybe there will be a special side column at Mark 16:18 on proper snake handlin' tips.


Hip and Thigh

anoninva said...

Phil commented about a homeschooler's biblezine. You know that's interesting. It made me think that we aren't really targeting homeschoolers for Christ, we just assume things about them that we don't assume about say "hip hoppers." We assume they either know Christ already or they could be given a normal Bible and start reading it and understand it.

So there is a subtle patronizing attitude towards those who they are attemting to reach with these 'zines.

Sled Dog said...

I wholeheartedly agree that people need to be fed the word, and fed well. That's why I preach expositionally. As I stated before, a trip to the Christian (can we really call it that anymore)can be depressing. And the whole "biblezine" issue is not a hill I come close to wanting to die on.

But, more of my concern is that there is a tone in many of these responses that seems, as anoniva wrote, patronizing to differing cultures. The reality is our world is extremely diverse, and becoming more so each day. Am I wrong in assuming that most of those who have felt free to make jokes about hip-hop jargon, hillbillys, etc. live comfortable suburban lifestyles, and that you rarely interact with individuals outside of that demographic? Be honest...

Jus Divinum said...

BTW, I just want to say that I was simply looking for some actual _argument_ on behalf of Phil's claims here. Many of you guys have provided it, and I must say that I'm persuaded by what you say. Thanks again, especially to Steven H, Phil Johnson, and Steve (wow!) for their further comments.

Steven H said...

Sled Dog, I can’t answer for the others, but I live in Los Angeles in an apartment. As the manager, I interact with Jews, African Americans, Hispanics, and an occasional Caucasian. They are young and old. Some are living together with their ‘significant’ other, while none of them are married. Not only do I live in the midst of the table of the nations, but I live, hear, see, and clean up after their sin.

I love these people. I don’t change my personality, I don’t change my talk, I don’t change my dress, and I don’t change my music. Contrary to your implication that those who hold to Scripture’s power to cut through all cultural barriers are ineffective, the Lord has been gracious for both my wife and I to have these same people come into our home and share the gospel with them.

I respect and enjoy their culture, but the Gospel does not need to be repackaged for each of my neighbors. I share Christ with them by evangelizing to them. There is no call for them to join my culture. There is, however, a beseeching to be reconciled to God through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

Sled Dog said...

steve h.

For the record, I thought your post on the matter was clear and lucid, completely lacking in any joking. And I agree that the Gospel doesn't have to be adapted to cultures...hey, the Gospel is unadaptable...once you change it, it is no longer Gospel.

But no missionary worth his or her salt doesn't realize that they will have to, in some degree, contextualize the Gospel for their intended audience.

Paul wrote of this in 1 Corinthians 9:19-24: For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings. (ESV)

Hazelbasil said...

Interesting to me that with all of the comments and commentary on the "Real" Biblezine, not one of the commentators actually read it, picked it up, or knew what it was about. In fact, it is not an ebonics bible, but uses the NCV (New Century Version) translation from Thomas Nelson. No where has the Word of God been compromised. Most of the articles and commentaries have scripture references at the bottom to lead the reader to investigate further. What is the Great Commission? It's telling the whole world the good news of the gospel. You can't tell them about it unless you can communicate with them. Rev. 5:7 says of those represented in heaven that. "...They were from every nation, tribe, people, and language of the earth." We've got to put away the notion that people have to hear what we say on our terms and come to terms with how God leads us to speak to them. And yes, let's do a bible that is specifically designed with commentary to reach Muslims, alcoholics, old people, babies, teenagers, middle-aged white men, homosexuals, bird-lovers, and one-legged people. As long as the Word of God remains the same, anything that leads the horse to drink is a good thing.